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Morris Area FIRST Robotics Team

BASF / Mt. Olive High / CCM



The team scored a surprising third place finish in the first-ever “international” competition of FIRST on April 4-6 at the FIRST Canadian Regional Robotics Competition in Toronto, Ontario.

  All previous FIRST competitions have taken place in the United States. Since this was the first-ever “international” event, it attracted a fair number of high-level, well-funded teams. Teams came from as far away as British Columbia, Colorado, and Florida. Fifty-five members of the BASF/Mt. Olive High/CCM team attended the Toronto event, including two CCM faculty and two CCM engineering students (most members came via a Lakeland bus). The team left Morris County on Wednesday and returned Sunday.

After the Rutgers event, team members had decided that two areas of the robot needed improvement. The ball-collection gearbox (critical for scoring) was too slow. A hastily re-designed replacement device was built in the CCM engineering lab by Mt. Olive and CCM students. Since the robot was already in Toronto (it had been sent by FedEx immediately following the Rutgers event), the new gearbox was brought up on the bus. It was fitted to the robot just in time for the first practice round on Thursday. The robot also needed a new deployment servo for the mini-robot that was contained inside it. This was also hastily fashioned at CCM. The redesigned parts were an enormous improvement. The self-deploying mini-robot was a real crowd-pleaser and resulted in winning the Xerox Trophy for “The Most Creative Design”. In the end, the top four “alliances” were very closely matched; the Morris-based team’s third place finish was an excellent acquittal of itself among a group of tough competitors.

At this point, the team will attend one more FIRST mini-regional, hosted by long-term friends and associates at Tunkhannock Area High School (Pa.). Younger team members will also attend the Lego-sponsored event for middle school students in Orlando.  In mid-Summer, adult team members will meet to assess team organization, design strategies and funding opportunities for the ’03 events.


Scroll down for pictures/stories of our Toronto FIRST experience.


Many projects have their "quiet heroes".  Here's our's........our bus driver, Mark. An agreeable and interesting multi-lingual, world-traveler, he maneuvered our enormous bus around an unfamiliar city as if it was a scooter. Always ready to go "at a moments notice", he made the logistics of moving our team from hotel to stadium to restaurant a smooth and simple matter. Thanks Mark! 

We had to stop at Niagara Falls for customs anyway, so we got out and let the students spend a little time viewing the sites. For some, this was the first time they had ever left the U.S.


Many parents were able to attend. Marie and son, Dan (left). John and son Dave (right)

Nial McCabe with CCM students, Larry Briggs and Dave Plum.


Unloading the bus at the Hotel in Mississagua, Ontario.

The venue for the competition was the Hershey Centre, a hockey rink outside Toronto. The photo above shows the team uncrating the robot, which was sent by FedEx directly from Rutgers......we were in a big rush at this point since we had only hours before the competition started (and there was lots of repair/maintenance that was needed prior to the first "round").

CCM student Larry and Mt. Olive student Mario......working on the troublesome cable guide system. We had trouble with this part of the robot throughout the competition.

Meanwhile, Mt. Olive student Andy Klages re-wires the connection system for the new ball roller mechanism.

CCM student Larry and Mt. Olive students "PK" and Sean work on the chain drive system for the ball collection system.

Access to the new ball roller mechanism required that the robot "ball container" be lifted. This created a strain on the lift cables, so team volunteers had to step in and hold up the container while the work was being done. This turned out to be a fatiguing job that everyone disliked (we took turns at this).

Our "secret weapon" was a mini-robot that drove out of a small "garage" in the base of the robot. The mini-robot was deployed during the competition as part of a scoring strategy; it was controlled by a long electrical cable (tether) that required careful packing (we described it as similar to "packing a parachute"). Here's Mario packing carefully packing the tether. The mini-robot was a real crowd-pleaser and ultimately we received the "Xerox Creative Design Trophy" as a result of this concept.

CCM student Dave Plum works with a Canadian FIRST volunteer to modify our "ball-scooper".

It wasn't all work. Here's some of our team members exchanging souvenirs with members of other teams. Virtually all teams brought some form of give-away souvenirs that were exchanged with other teams. These were usually buttons, pens, candy, etc. The "souvenir exchange" is a nice catalyst  for having team members interact with students from other teams.

One of the neatest parts of FIRST is it's emphasis on "Gracious Professionalism" (the official motto). During the Thursday practice session, a rookie Canadian team started bashing their robot into our's. Their team apparently thought that FIRST Robotics was similar to "Robo-Wars" or "Robotica". For people who really understand the FIRST concept, that would be like saying "The Olympics is just like the WWF". After the bashing incident, FIRST officials explained the transgression to the rookie team members. They were mortified by their error and immediately came to us, offering an apology (and a large cache of their souvenirs). From this experience we would say that the lessons learned in FIRST  go far beyond the mere building of robots. 


 About twenty parents and adult volunteers came to Toronto with the team. Here's three from the "Mom squad".

A view of the playing field. The structure in the center of the picture is a goal; mounted on casters, it's moveable. Yellow balls can be seen in the background. Scoring involves placing balls in the goals and moving the goal to a "scoring zone" on the field. The robot must then return to a "home" position. This is done in concert with a randomly selected robot-partner against two other robots (so there are four robots on the field at the same time). Each "round" takes two minutes. Dozens of rounds were played before the Finals took place on Saturday. Between rounds, we spent most of the time fixing and improving various systems (and so did most of the other teams). A visit to the pit area was like a visit to a giant mechanical bee-hive. By the way, compared to the raucous Rutgers event, we felt the music played here was more "mellow" (in recognition of the many U.S. teams present, the event began with the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" as well as "Oh Canada!").

Left to right: Bill McGowan (Mt. Olive teacher and team captain), Larry Briggs (CCM engineering student), Dave Plum (CCM engineering student), Ernie DiCicco (Mt. Olive parent and team manager), "PK" (Mt. Olive student) and Nial McCabe (CCM faculty)

Mario and Dave install hastily-fabricated "ball guide and bumper system". 

Let's just call this picture "The robot eats Dave!".

CCM contingent: Dave Plum, Nial McCabe and John Klages (John's entire family came to the Toronto event).

A group shot of our team and our two alliance partner-teams; taken in the pit area of Hershey Centre.

Morris County invades Ontario! Here's our entire team outside the Hershey Centre at the end of the event. (proving "all's well that ends well", it should be noted that this photo was taken by a member of the rookie team that had been mistakenly "bashing" us on Thursday......obviously, no hard feelings!).

Bill and Ernie directing the team onto the bus at the end of the event.....Toronto skyline in the background. After the end of the event (Saturday) we took the team to the CN Tower in Toronto. Team members had a great time walking (and even jumping!) on the famous CN Tower "glass floor" (don't try it if you're afraid of heights!). We also walked along the Toronto waterfront area. Toronto is a beautiful city and many team members vowed to return.

Last look at Canada: George (a Mt. Olive parent) takes in the window view of the Falls as the bus crosses the Rainbow Bridge on it's way back to the U.S.


The "spoils" of our efforts.....on the left, the Second Place trophy we won at Rutgers. On the right, the Xerox Creative Design trophy we won for our neat mini-robot concept.


***************************************************************************** "Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble."------Sir Henry Royce (From a plaque mounted near the entrance to the Rolls-Royce factory in Crewe, England) ***************************************************************************** Return to Nial McCabe's home page: Links to other FIRST Robotics information, cars, aviation, education, etc.